Winter loosens grip as mild air filters north

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The Independent Online

The cold snap that brought snow and ice and record low temperatures to parts of Britain began to lift at the weekend - and resulted in thousands of burst water pipes.

The London Weather Centre said the improvement was marked. "It's going to get dramatically milder, with milder air spreading from the south. The Siberian wind has gone back to Siberia," a spokesman said.

But conditions remained perilous for drivers last night. the RAC described South Wales as an "ice-rink", and freezing rain and sleet created treacherous conditions in the North

There was growing concern last night for a missing couple, in their fifties, whose abandoned snow-covered car was found on Friday night at Wenlock Edge, Shropshire.

The bad weather has also taken its toll on the rest of Europe. Five people were killed and seven seriously injured in road accidents in Belgium and northern France this weekend. Italy was also affected. Snow forced the closure of Milan airport yesterday, while heavy rain battered central and southern regions, and the canals in Venice overflowed.

Emergency services in Britain were stretched to the limit last night, as drivers struggled to their New Year's Eve destinations.

Ambulance controllers in Oxfordshire said every ambulance in the county was being used to dash from one accident to another, and in Avon, there were more than 500 emergency calls. PC John Troke, of Hampshire police, said: "As fast as the grit is put down, the road is icing over again. Cars are spinning or turning over like ballerinas skating around."

In Scotland, which has suffered the worst weather in the last week, the thaw has caused thousands of burst pipes, and emergency services were receiving calls at the rate of 300 an hour in Glasgow alone.

t A man whose body was found wedged in a window at his home in South Wales may have frozen to death, police said yesterday. They believe the 52-year-old man became trapped while trying to get into the house in Ammanford after locking himself out.